War memorial proposed for old Cape Breton coal mine site

War memorial proposed for old Cape Breton coal mine site

A Cape Breton group is proposing that an old coal mine site in Sydney Mines be turned into a war memorial, a location that will avoid the bitter controversy faced by another proposed memorial — the Mother Canada statue.

The Sydney Mines Tourism Development Society has begun planning a project known as Atlantic Memorial Park, which would be located on property once occupied by the Princess Colliery.

"That would take away the problem of having to disturb a pristine site in Green Cove and also, at the same time, beautify a former mine site," said society board member Cyril Aker.

Mother Canada controversy

Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park was the location proposed for the $25-million Mother Canada project championed by Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani.

The project was rejected by Parks Canada last year following fierce debate between proponents and those who didn't want the giant structure in a national park.

The Sydney Mines proposal near the mouth of Sydney harbour is much smaller than the eight-storey Mother Canada statue, and Aker said it is more than just a monument.

The proposal includes a visitor centre, the restoration of the Chapel Point Battery, a family park at Lochmans Beach and a reproduction of a First Nations encampment to recognize the contributions of Indigenous veterans to Canada's war efforts, said Aker.

Fellow board member Brian Ferguson said the group contacted Trigiani to see if he wanted to be involved in making Atlantic Memorial Park a reality. He declined, said Ferguson.

"He wants to retain his interest in Green Cove and move forward with that concept, in his mind, in the future."

Sydney Mines project gets support

A monument on the site of the former coal mine in Sydney Mines would be designed "through a consultative process," according to Aker. There's no estimate yet on the cost of such a monument, he said. Other components of the proposal are estimated to cost between $2 million and $6 million, depending on the scope of the project, he added.

Ferguson said there's a funding strategy and the society will draw on corporate and private donors, as well as seeking money from federal and provincial government departments.

Aker said several legions have endorsed the idea along with Destination Cape Breton and the Port of Sydney.

There's a community information session at 7 p.m. on April 18 at Holy Family Parish Hall in Sydney Mines.

Military history

One of the strengths of the concept, Aker said, is the war memorial in this context would not be a standalone monument, as many are. 

Convoys set out from Sydney harbour for Europe during the wars. The harbour was the site of military fortifications, a naval and air force base, and was where hundreds of ships were loaded with coal and steel during both war and peacetime.

Aker said the proposed park also has a role to play in satisfying the intense interest in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France as people remember what happened there 100 years ago.